Murder at the Windmill (1949)

|
“Always something coming off, always something going on!”
|

vt Mystery at the Burlesque
UK / 65 minutes / bw / Angel, Grand National Dir & Scr: Val Guest Pr: Daniel M. Angel Cine: Bert Mason Cast: Garry Marsh, Jack Livesey, Jon Pertwee, Elliot Makeham, Diana Decker, Donald Clive, Jill Anstey, Jimmy Edwards, Margot Johns (i.e., Margo Johns), Genine Grahame, Pamela Deeming, Johnnie Gale, John Powe, Constance Smith, Barry O’Neill, Ron Perriam, Christine Welsford, Peter Butterworth, Ivan Craig, Robin Richmond, and members of the Windmill Theatre Company: Raymond, Anita, Pat, Margot, June and Maureen.

“Wherever it was practical to do so this story was filmed on the actual sites in and around the Windmill Theatre and the parts played by the Girls and Staff of the Theatre were re-enacted by themselves.”

The Windmill Theatre, just off London’s Piccadilly Circus, was famed for two things: the fact that its variety shows (the closest, but I think rather misleading, US equivalent would be burlesque) featured nude tableaux, and its claim (which may have been truthful) that it missed nary a performance all through the Blitz. “We Never Closed!” was the boast—indeed, here it is:

The idea of a murder mystery set within the Windmill and featuring a number of its real-life performers must have seemed irresistible to producers, to director Val Guest and indeed to potential cinema audiences. Of course, the screen censors wouldn’t allow the inclusion of any of the famed tableaux, even though it was censorship that was responsible for the tableaux in the first place: moving performers weren’t at the time permitted to be naked on the London stage, for fear of undue jiggling, heaven forfend, but motionless tableaux featuring classical themes were exempt, being clearly of educational interest.

Which I suppose in a way they were, for at least some of the younger spectators among the Windmill’s audiences. Even so, one of the unusual features of the theatre was that opera glasses were forbidden.

By the time I lived in London, the Windmill was Continue reading

Advertisements

Four Just Men, The (1939)

vt The Secret Four; vt The Secret Column

UK / 82 minutes / bw / CAPAD, ABFD Dir: Walter Summers Pr: Michael Balcon Scr: Angus MacPhail, Sergei Nolbandov, Roland Pertwee Story: The Four Just Men (1905) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Ronald Neame Cast: Hugh Sinclair, Griffith Jones, Francis L. Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Anna Lee, Alan Napier, Basil Sydney, Lydia Sherwood, Edward Chapman, Athole Stewart, George Merritt, Arthur Hambling, Garry Marsh, Ellaline Terriss, Percy Walsh, Roland Pertwee, Eliot Makeham, Frederick Piper, Jon Pertwee, Liam Gaffney.

Wallace’s novel was a massive bestseller in its native land, and the assumption of this movie was that viewers were at least vaguely familiar with the book’s premise: that a group of four men, working to secure justice where the cops could not, operated covertly—often taking the power of life and death into their own hands—to defend justice and the British way of life. In the novel they were essentially conspiratorial vigilantes; in the movie, made as Europe trembled on the verge of World War Two, the emphasis is more political.

In 1938 one of the Four Just Men, James Terry (Lawton), awaits execution this very morning in the German prison of Regensberg. Even as he’s being prepared for the ax, an imperious officer arrives with instructions that Terry is to be taken away for further interrogation. Sure enough, as the staff car speeds away, it’s revealed—to the surprise of no one in the audience—that the officer and his driver are two of the other Just Men, respectively distinguished stage actor Humphrey Mansfield (Sinclair) and theatrical impresario James “Jim” D. Brodie (Jones). Back in London, the three reunite with the fourth of the quartet, French couturier Léon Poiccard (Sullivan).

The Four Just Men - 1 Poiccard (Sullivan) has it easy - for now

Poiccard (Francis L. Sullivan) has it easy — but for how long?

Terry, who’s dying of emphysema or some similar illness, managed to discover at Regensberg some further details of a dastardly plot against international peace that the Just Men have been investigating. He’s promptly despatched to the Near East to make further inquiries while Continue reading